What makes America great

Seattle’s Congressional Representative Pramila Jayapal – first elected this past November – has an op ed in the NY Times.

Seventeen years ago, I celebrated my first Independence Day as a United States citizen. I couldn’t have predicated then that I would one day have the enormous privilege of being the first Indian-American woman to serve in the United States House of Representatives, and one of only six members of Congress who are naturalized citizens.

This is our better side – the side that welcomes people, and includes them.

She had a struggle to get citizenship because of random bits of bad luck.

When I finally walked into the cavernous hall at the old location of Immigration and Naturalization Services (now called United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) south of downtown Seattle, I was prepared for a simple transaction that would finally grant me citizenship and ensure that I would always be with my son. I did not anticipate the emotion that would come with the moment, or the way it would shape my future, and my understanding of this country.

There were hundreds of others at the ceremony from all over the world, and I could hear languages from every continent spoken. We all carried small American flags. Grandparents held children; moms and dads held hands. As we took the oath of citizenship, the solemnity of the moment spiked through me. Tears welled up and rolled down my cheeks as I took in the mixed emotions of renouncing any allegiance to my birth country of India where I had been a citizen for 35 years and embracing my new country.

America, a country that had embraced me as a 16-year-old who had come here by myself to study and build a life of better opportunity.

America, a country built on the idea of being a refuge for those in need, “the tired masses, yearning to breathe free.”

America, a country that has always celebrated itself as a nation of immigrants.

In that moment, as I took my oath, I realized how lucky I was. I knew that my future had opened up, and that citizenship would offer me the chance to seek opportunity and to take part in our democracy. I knew, too, that with those freedoms and opportunity came enormous responsibility: to do everything I could to preserve and build our democracy, to vote, and to use my life to pay it forward and ensure opportunity for others.

I became an immigrant, civil and human rights advocate, then the first South Asian elected to the Washington State Legislature and the only woman of color in the Washington State Senate, and then was elected in 2016 to the United States Congress.

These are difficult times for immigrants and for Americans across our country. President Trump has harnessed the fear and prejudice that have accompanied every wave of immigrants in United States history, and stoked those fears to further his own agenda.

Restricting immigration from Muslim-majority countries, and cracking down on unauthorized immigration in a way that tears families apart and creates an atmosphere of fear, cuts at the very fabric of what really does make America great: the diversity that is our greatest strength.

This Fourth of July, as I remember my own naturalization ceremony and give thanks for the honor of being a United States citizen and a member of Congress, I call on the president and my fellow Americans to remember our history. What makes America great is our commitment to our values of inclusivity and opportunity for all. Immigration is about more than just who comes here and who is allowed to stay. It is about who we are as a country and what we are willing to stand up for.

I’m glad I got to vote for her.

Comments are closed.